Hands-on learning key to Western’s plan


Missouri Western State University is more successful in its applied learning program – the hands-on experience many students have experienced – than ever before.

Daffron“In order to measure our success in applied learning, we had to define it,” said Jeanne Daffron, dean of professional studies and vice-president of student and academic affairs. “What it means at Western is we actually have four forms: clinical practicum and internships that is one form, another is study away programs, there is the service learning programs and the fourth thing is the professor- student research projects. That is how we operationally defined it.”

Applied learning at Western has become a focus in the formula of driving students to success. Paul Shang, dean of student development, feels the focus of applied learning is a very exciting prospect for Western.

“This is a hallmark aspect of Missouri Western,” Shang said. “The approach which has been taken here which accounts for the success and makes it a signature effort is that it is integrated into the curriculum. It makes it an integral part of the students learning.”

Martin Johnson, dean of liberal arts and sciences, emphasizes the reason for the excitement is the rising success of the program.

“Missouri Western has been involved in applied learning for many years,” Johnson said. “The level of activity and the number of people involved has steadily increased. Now it is in excess of 80 percent of graduates who have completed their internship or faculty-student research. This is one of the areas where we have hitched our star, and it is shining pretty well.”

Western has exceeded its benchmark goal of 75  percent involvement for graduating students in the applied learning concept.

“That was one of the goals of the strategic plan that we are finishing this year,” Daffron said. “It was to increase student participation in applied learning. Dr. Scanlon originally wanted to have a goal of 100 percent, and I think that was a little frightening for some people, so I think in our strategic plan we actually set the goal at 75 percent. And last year we were at 81 percent of all graduates had some form of significant applied learning experience.”

A goal of 100 percent is not an unattainable goal.

“I think it is just a matter of time before we are at a 100 percent involvement,” Shang said. “I think one of the reasons now, largely, is we have not yet identified all the appropriate internships, and we have not gotten as many people involved in our study away activities.”

With student involvement on the rise, Western is beginning to take a role of prominence for its success in applied learning.

“When the legislature granted us university status, it also gave us a state-wide mission in applied learning, so that really is asking us to provide some leadership in the applied learning area,” Daffron said. “This was very exciting for us to be considered as such.”

Outside of the benefit this success gives the university, there is also an advantage for the students.

“The benefits of it are multitudinous; some students get jobs straight out of their internships,” Johnson said. “It puts something on their resume that sets them apart from anybody else. These are things that are beneficial to students, not only in their education, but also in their professional endeavors.”

The reputation of the performance of Western graduates is on the rise as well.

“We certainly have heard from employers that that they feel Missouri Western students are more practically oriented and more focused,” Shang said. “Our next steps are going to be to add on to the applied learning concept and see if we can’t also present it outside of the classrooms.”

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